Indeed, Van Pran has had to grow up fast. Georgia opened preseason camp with junior Warren Ericson as the clear No. 1 at center. Ericson started the last two games of last season after Trey Hill was sidelined with two injured knees.
But Ericson went down in the second practice of preseason camp with a fracture in his left, snapping hand. Ericson is being eased back into action in a clubbed cast. He’s trying to snap some with his right hand, but primarily is working now at guard.
As for Van Pran, even though he was No. 2 on depth chart behind Ericson and saw action in four SEC games last season, offensive line coach Matt Luke didn’t automatically anoint him as the starter. In fact, he’s still not the clear No. 1 center.
Van Pran has been alternating first-team snaps with senior Jamaree Salyer. Salyer, who started nine games at left tackle and one at left guard last season, actually went first with the No. 1 offense in Saturday’s scrimmage at Sanford Stadium.
But the best scenario for the Bulldogs remains keeping Salyer at left tackle for the opener. That is, as long as Van Pran proves proficient at the multi-faceted responsibilities that come with playing center. That includes recognizing defensive formations, calling out blocking adjustments and, of course, delivering an on-target snap to quarterback JT Daniels.
Salyer has been one of Van Pran’s primary advocates at mastering all those requirements.
“Honestly, Jamaree has been a tremendous help,” Van Pran said. “When he gets those center reps, just being able to watch him and see how he’s snapping his head to pick up different twists and things of that sort, it’s definitely a big help. As a student of the game, you’re going to be watching guys get reps in front of you.”
At one point Ericson was ahead of Van Pran, too. Now he’s also assisting Van Pran with defense recognition and line calls.
The two centers have become close friends in the past year. They’ve spent hours together this summer, snapping to Georgia’s quarterbacks in voluntary and non-voluntary practices and often snapping to each other when other players weren’t around.
“We always try to help each other out,” Van Pran said of Ericson. “It’s supposed to be a competition, but at the end of the day, we all want to win. So, I’m helping him get his snaps correct with his opposite hand, and he’s helping me get my snaps correct, move, take the right steps, things like that. Warren has been doing an amazing job, and I’m really, really proud of the progress he is making.”
Meanwhile, Clemson’s defensive line awaits. It is considered the program’s best since 2018, when it featured three players taken in the first round of the 2019 NFL draft.
Sophomore defensive end Myles Murphy gets the most publicity for his high sack rate, but the Tigers go eight deep across the front, with seven players having logged starts.
“They all want to run out there first, and they’re all good enough to run out there first,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “That defensive line is special. ... We’ve been kind of growing up the last couple of years. Really, really young in ‘19, and then last year was kind of a crazy deal.”
Van Pran does not appear fazed by the challenge. He was, after all, recruited to Georgia for exactly this purpose.
Van Pran was a consensus pick as the No. 1 center prospect in the country when he signed with the Bulldogs. Georgia managed to pry him out of Louisiana only after a vicious tug-of-war with LSU.
Perhaps that’s why there’s nary a hint of intimidation within Van Pran when asked about working with the Bulldogs’ No. 1 offense.
“I don’t think it has been much of an adjustment,” he said. “Coach Smart does a great job of getting a lot of guys reps, especially guys who are expected to potentially help. So, overall, it hasn’t been much of an adjustment. I’ve just been focusing on the things that coach Luke has taught me. I think it has gone well so far, and I’m just coming along, trying to get better.”
To be clear, the last year proved to Van Pran that there is much on which he needs to improve.
“The most difficult thing for me has been, honestly, just taking coaching every day, (learning) the technique, just really getting in the film room and getting better, man,” he said. “It’s really a tough thing. Coming from high school, you think you’re a good player. Then you realize to be good on this level you’ve got to fix up some technique. Not saying that you don’t have God-given ability, but honestly, it was an adjustment when I first got here. I had to fix up some technique things to really start playing ball on a fast level. I want to credit coach Luke for that and send him a thank you.”
Fifth-year senior Justin Shaffer, who has been lining up alongside Van Pran at left guard, likes what he has seen from the young center.
“Been good,” Shaffer said. “I feel like the guys that have been in there taking reps are just as comfortable at the position as if Warren Ericson was still in there.”